November 14, 2006
Risk Factors For Whether You Will Live 85 Years

Your odds of reaching 85 are 69% if you avoid all the risk factors spelled out below.

Avoiding health risk factors in midlife such as smoking, being overweight, excessive drinking and hypertension is associated with a longer and healthier life in men, according to a study in the November 15 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on men's health.

Bradley J. Willcox, M.D., of the Pacific Health Research Institute and Kuakini Medical Center in Honolulu, presented the findings of the study today at a JAMA media briefing on men's health in New York.

Persons alive at age 85 years or older are the fastest-growing age group in most industrialized countries and are among the largest consumers of health care resources. Identifying strategies for remaining healthy, vigorous, and disability-free at older ages has become a major priority, according to background information in the article. Studies with substantial numbers of long-lived participants and characteristics associated with longer survival are rare but essential to identify risk factors for health and survival at older ages.

Dr. Willcox and colleagues examined potential biological, lifestyle, and sociodemographic risk factors present at middle-age to identify risk factors for healthy survival. The study included 5,820 Japanese-American middle-aged men (average age, 54) in the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program/Honolulu Asia Aging Study. The participants were free of illness and functional impairments and were followed for up to 40 years (1965-2005) to assess overall and exceptional survival. Exceptional survival was defined as survival to a specified age (75, 80, 85, or 90 years) without incidence of 6 major chronic diseases and without physical and cognitive impairment. The diseases were coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer (excluding nonmelanoma skin cancer), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Parkinson disease, and treated diabetes. Of the 5,820 original participants, 2,451 participants (42 percent) survived to age 85 years and 655 participants (11 percent) met the criteria for exceptional survival to age 85 years.

Here are the core factors you have to work on to increase your odds of reaching 85.

The researchers found that high grip strength and avoidance of overweight, hyperglycemia, hypertension, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption were associated with both overall and exceptional survival. In addition, high education and avoidance of hypertriglyceridemia (elevated triglyceride level) were associated with exceptional survival, and lack of a marital partner was associated with death before age 85 years.

Get married, stop smoking, build muscle strength, don't drink too much alcohol, eat a diet that keeps your triglycerides down. These are all known risk factors already.

Avoid all the risk factors and your odds of reaching 85 are very high.

Risk factor models based on cumulative risk factors (survival risk score) suggest that the probability of survival to age 85 years is as high as 69 percent with no risk factors and as low as 22 percent with 6 or more risk factors. The probability of exceptional (healthy) survival to age 85 years was 55 percent with no risk factors but decreased to 9 percent with 6 or more risk factors

Rejuvenation therapies are coming. The longer you can keep yourself alive the greater the odds you'll still be around when therapies that reverse aging make it to market.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 November 14 10:35 PM  Aging Studies

Christensens Clones said at November 15, 2006 4:21 AM:

Rejuvenatin therapies are a carrot held out by elitists.

Generally they are a fantasy, and even if implemented to some degree, you know good and well they will only be available to the elite.

Bob Badour said at November 15, 2006 6:53 AM:


Your commentary strikes me as absurd fantasy. In 1973, facelifts and breast implants may have been exclusive to the wealthy. Today, even young women with quite limited financial resources seek out plastic surgery treatments.

People of modest means hop on jet aircraft and fly to different continents today.

Never in the history of the free market has any consumer good or service been kept exclusive for any elite.

Joe said at November 15, 2006 8:13 AM:

Christensens if anything the *elite* are doing the rest of us favors by testing out the therapies before they are used on the masses. It is difficult to argue that just because something is one way today that it will be that way forever. The only constant I can think of in human nature is change.

Robert Schwartz said at November 15, 2006 11:02 AM:

"risk factors in midlife such as smoking, being overweight, excessive drinking and hypertension"

What is elitist about not smoking or limiting your alcohol consumption. Both measures cost less as does eating less. All the exercise you need is available for free by walking or running. Unnecessary weight can be lost for free by eating less and exercising more. Oh yeah, and stay out of the noon-day sun.

Russ said at November 15, 2006 11:30 AM:

I really like that they included strength factors. Grip strength especially, since it's a factor in *avoiding accidents.*

My family generally wins the genetic lottery and lives up through that age in general... we've never been supermen, but we're usually pretty relaxed... so skritch a kitten and play the doofus in front of little girls, it's good for your longevity...

Omer K said at November 15, 2006 1:15 PM:

It should be noted that this study should not mean necessarily that lower smoking etc CAUSES higher lifespan.

From "The Armchair Economist" by Steven Landsburg (not verbatim)- Why do insurance companies give non-smokers lower rates? It isnt only because smoking is bad for your health. Its because people who do not smoke are likely to look after their health in other ways. Its a signal that you take care of your health. So we should not assume that if smoking was banned tomorrow everybody's Insurance rates would go down, on the contrary, deprived of the signalling mechanism of VOLUNTARY non-smoking, a non-smokers premium would go UP.

Aka, imo give them an IQ test as the most predictive measure, the rest will add materially, but Id bet one of the biggest factor will be their brains.

Nick said at November 15, 2006 2:21 PM:

"It should be noted that this study should not mean necessarily that lower smoking etc CAUSES higher lifespan."

Do you really have any doubt about it??

Randall Parker said at November 15, 2006 5:18 PM:


Good point about the grip strength. Yes, the ability to grab, say, a rail in a shower stall will help prevent a fall that'll break bones and leave a person unable to walk again. The disability decreases exercise and makes people feel they have less to live for.

I also suspect grip strength might be a proxy for general muscle strength including heart muscle strength. Strength of leg and hip muscles will help prevent falls. Also, the stresses of the exercise that increases the muscle strength is going to help increase bone strength.

Omer K,

An economist might be able to believe that the case against smoking as a life shortener hasn't been proven yet. But it has been so proved to such an extreme extent that we don't have to posit a role for it as a proxy for other behaviors that do affect longevity.

Mark Plus said at November 17, 2006 7:55 AM:

I don't understand the point of bringing up marriage as a risk factor in longevity. You can control the other risk factors to some extent, but you generally don't have any control over whether you have a wife or not. You can't get married in the same way you can go to the animal shelter to adopt a cat.

Randall Parker said at November 17, 2006 5:25 PM:

Mark Plus,

The difficulty in getting married depends on who you are. Some men could get married pretty easily if they wanted to. Ditto for some women.

Patrick said at November 17, 2006 7:05 PM:

Christensens has a good point sort of, such therapies will be available first of all to the rich.

Hence if you want to survive to reach eternal youth, you should adopt all the above strategies... AND work to become rich.

Whether this is deciding to study electronics rather than French poetry in college, or forcing yourself to adopt a long term savings and investment plan. And maybe decide to skip watching Survivor Island in favour of sitting down with a book and learning a bit about the sharemarket. You know that each of these actions is good for society as a whole, in addition to just your own projected lifespan.

And I would say that almost everyone could get married if they put some work into it. Stuff like getting off the sofa and loosing that extra 20 kg. Getting out into the world and meeting people. Maybe expanding your horizons from "if I can't get a blonde, rich, 19 year old from my own suburb then it's nobody". Learning a new language and travelling to other countries.

And what do you know, these are exactly the same things that will make you healthier AND richer. It's all connected.

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